There were six of us huddled in a rubber raft experiencing our first ever Grade Four rapid – and it was terrifying. However, the stunned silence of when our guide first roared, “Get Doowwnnnn!” was later swapped for giddy laughter as we each peeked our heads up to find the rapid had come and gone, and we were still in the raft. And still in one piece. Result.
Of course, just as we were patting ourselves on the back for managing to stay intact in the raft, our guide Alan was ordering us to climb out. “Jump out? Really? In there? With all that really fast water and big rocks?” Yes, really.
Try that for capsize
I had thought the whole idea of whitewater rafting was to try and stay inside the raft, but Alan had other ideas.
Apparently jumping into the water and swimming through a gentle rapid would put us at ease and make us feel more comfortable with the whole experience. I also later realised it would act as a tester, to see how we would react when Alan would capsize the raft and dump us lot in the water – just for the hell of it.
Our group was made up of me and my man, two Irish backpackers fresh off the plane and an American couple who were on their honeymoon. Thankfully we had three big, strong men in the group, because once you jumped ship, it was an ordeal trying to clamber back into the raft.
Whitewater rafting on the Tully River, just inland from Mission Beach in northern Queensland, is not a leisurely canoe ride. Alan told us Grade Six rapids are actual death – think rafting down Niagara Falls – your chances of surviving are just above the zero per cent mark. So if Grade Six rapids are actual death, then as you can imagine, Grade Four is death warmed up.
Aside from getting bobbed about like a ragdoll in a spin cycle, there is also a chance to relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery that the Tully region has to offer. It is pure bliss to escape the heat by lying back in the fresh, cool water and floating along. We also had a tasty barbecue lunch provided to build us up, to face what the afternoon has got in store…
Traditionally, rapids are named by the first people to raft it. With this in mind, I can only imagine what horny bunch first encountered the rapids on the Tully River as they decided on names such as ‘Foreplay’, ‘Wet and Moisty’ and ‘Double D Cup’.
A few of the less distracted rafters named other rapids ‘Doors of Deception’, ‘Lava Flows’ and ‘Flip Wilson’. And I had a feeling the later wouldn’t result in a smooth ride for our group.
I wasn’t wrong. Because, for some reason, our guide didn’t believe in the quick-and-painless approach, he made us watch as group after group were steered down a steep waterfall and the raft was overturned. We were just delaying the inevitable.
Eventually he ordered us all to one side of the raft and told us to hold on tight to each other (so we couldn’t grab hold of the raft in a last ditch attempt to stay inside) and alas, smmaaasshhh. The raft had its ass in the air and its occupants in the rapids. But it was such fun that we decided to forgive Alan for being such a sadist. Plus we knew he still had a lot of river to guide us down and we were better having him as friend, and not foe.
For those who thought they could handle a bigger drop we stopped off at a big cliff where we could climb to the top and jump in the water. In the interests of writing a good story, but with my two knees trembling with fear, I made my way to the top – and looked down. At that point there was no going back, so I held my breath, thought of Ireland and took the leap. Geronimo!
Later on we laughed as the group looked back over the photos with a much needed cold beer in hand. Most agreed that it was one of the top adventure activities they’d tried out while inAustralia. But after the energetic day we had, my man and I needed to chill out so we headed onwards to Mission Beach.
Without doubt, Mission Beach is one of the most relaxed places I have ever been. For our hostel, think of a cross between a log cabin and a hippy commune. People here don’t know the meaning of stress and it is easy to pass the day away snoozing in a hammock or chilling out by the pool, listening to the sounds of the rainforest.
This place is alive with wildlife. We managed to spot cassowaries, wallabies, Christmas beetles, stick insects, toads and geckos – and all without wandering away from the hostel. It was a perfect end to an amazing day. Lying in the hammock, watching the sun go down with my homemade (slightly-too-strong) cocktail in hand, I thought, “I really feel like I achieved something today. I wouldn’t mind giving those Grade Five rapids a run for their money.” Or maybe that was just the drink talking.
The damage and the details: Full day whitewater rafting with Raging Thunder (Ph: 07 4030 7990, ragingthunder.com.au) from $185; Beds at Treehouse YHA Mission Beach (Ph: 07 4068 7137; treehousehostel.com.au) from $25 a night.